Guest column by Rob'n Laurelli | Not a joke




A s someone who’s grown up in an area of Philly that would be considered the “hood,” I’m frankly angry that the recent themed Beta Theta Pi/Chi Omega party was thrown. I, along with some of my friends, have been “born and raised” in areas of Philly where drug-dealing and gang violence were a normal part of our surroundings. Some of us even have relatives who have died or been harmed by gang violence.

My cousin has been shot at three different times in his life. The last time he was shot, the bullet ended up lodging in his body. Because of the way the bullet embedded itself, the doctors decided to leave the bullet inside of him because they were afraid of potentially killing him in an operation to remove it. He’s been talking recently about how the bullet is shifting in his body and hurting him, and the doctors aren’t sure about what to do now.

I’ve heard everyone talking about bullying and mental health lately surrounding this issue. I myself was bullied throughout my entire childhood, so I feel a lot of sensitivity toward issues of bullying. What people have failed to realize is that letting people know when they’ve done something offensive, demanding an apology and asking people to do better at being culturally and socio-economically sensitive is not bullying.

And as someone who is currently struggling with mental illness, I can tell you that I haven’t been hearing any mention of the kinds of mental effects this “gangsta” theme - and my peers’ dismissal of how seriously offensive this is - has had on my mental health. Or the mental health of people like me who have grown up in the hood. Or the mental health of people like me who have had relatives harmed or killed by gang violence. Or the mental health of people like me who already feel like fish out of water when coming to an institution like Penn and then feel like they can’t voice their opinions or that their feelings can’t be respected when it comes to feeling mocked about their class or race or culture.

My life while living in Germantown is not something to be mocked. My cousin getting shot at various times in his life (though thankfully surviving) and still dealing with the mental and physical repercussions due to gang violence is not something to be trivialized. My identity as a person of color - and my experiences as a former member of a low-income neighborhood - is not something that can be easily taken off like a baseball cap and sweatpants and tacky chains worn at a frat party.

This is not funny. It’s not cute. It’s disrespectful for those of us who have lived in the hood and who have had relatives and friends killed or harmed by the “thug life” that some people in positions of privilege have written on their knuckles at a party. There needs to be an apology from both organizations, and it needs to happen now.

Rob’n Laurelli is a College sophomore from Philadelphia studying environmental science and minoring in gender, sexuality and women's studies. She is a member of Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention and her email address is rlaur@sas.upenn.edu.

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